While every pitcher hopes that they never allow hard contact or balls hit past the dirt of the infield, there is a reason the outfield exists. After examining the posts in the infield for the upcoming baseball season, its time we branch out further and spend some time in the grass.
Cincinnati was lucky to employ a very strong outfield last season. There was power, average, speed and fielding acumen to burn, especially with from R.J. Thompson and A.J. Bumpass. The outfield view will be a bit different this season as Thompson and his .350/.426/.493 triple slash are gone.
Luckily, Bumpass really came into his own last season, providing a lot of pop in the order while playing fairly well in the field. He ranked second on the team in batting average (.287) and slugging percentage (.491) while leading the way in RBI (40) and extra-base hits (26). He also improved his eye and drew 33 walks, which tied him with Ryan Noda for the team lead. Bumpass is the star of this team and it will be exciting to watch him improve even further.
What would be depressing is if Bumpass falls into the same trap that Treg Haberkorn got himself caught in last season. After hitting .264/.367/.396 in 2016, Haberkorn really struggled at the plate in 2017. His triple slash (.157/.254/.324) plummeted, even as he set a career-high with four home runs. He also only stole four bases and suddenly couldn’t draw a walk. Getting him back to normal will be critical to any success this team has.
Redshirt sophomore Jordan Ramey (.077/.143/.077) and junior Vince Augustine (.168/.197/.263) have both had pretty lackluster careers to this point, but one of them will take on a starting role. Augustine likely has the inside track.
How the Opposition Stacks Up
Troy Stefanski is a player to watch here, as he had a strong summer in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, notching 19 extra-base hits and a .293 average in 49 games. John Toppa was a junior last year and also did well this past summer, playing at an All-Star level in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He batted .267/.303/.330 last season. Then there’s Isaac Feldstein, who hit seven home runs and drove in 43 while slugging .457 in his first season in Storrs.
It seems like the Cougars have a solid handle on their outfield. Grayson Padgett is the best of the bunch as he has hit .308/.396/.408 across his first two seasons. He is also a perfect 8-for-8 on stolen base attempts. Wendell Champion II (.258/.415/.452) and Landon Etzel (.258/.378/.355) should see starting time as well.
There will be three new starters for the Knights, and Ray Alejo, who is listed as an infielder could get a look. Meanwhile, Brody Wofford and Chandler Robertson are transfer reinforcements while senior Max Wood is the lone player with actual experience, having played in 23 games last season with pretty dismal results (.130/.222/.130).
With Duke Stunkel, the Bulls have a great foundation in the outfield. Stunkel hit .344 last season en route to second-team all-conference honors. There is depth beyond Stunkel, with Garrett Zech (.260/.368/.359) and Chris Chatfield (.226/.332/.433) the best of the rest, especially Chatfield, who has hit 15 home runs over the last two seasons.
Tyler Webb will be one of Memphis’ better players after he batted .305 with 23 extra-base hits (six home runs) in 2017. The rest of the group needs to be better, with Carlos Williams (.228/.361/.316) and Nick Vaage (.167/.224/.259) competing with some newcomers.
Dwanya Williams-Sutton is one of the best all-around players in the American Athletic Conference. He batted an incredible .360/.455/.551 in 2016 and although he didn’t match that in 2017, he still put together a strong season, slugging above .500, getting on base at a .403 clip and hitting seven home runs. Dusty Baker plays predominately in center field and he has a so-so hit tool (.268/.366/.289) but very little power. Andrew Hendrickson can play pretty much anywhere in the outfield and hit .234 in 50 games (16 starts) last year.
Grant Witherspoon is pegged as a preseason all-AAC outfielder and for good reason. He slashed .299/.373/.420 in 2017 and showed an ability to hit for power (16 extra-base hits) and run the bases well (10 steals). Tyler Heinrichs and Kobi Owen both have experience as well but not nearly as much success in the batter’s box.
Greyson Jenista’s name came up in the first base preview, but he can also play in the outfield. In fact, the Shockers have a few guys who can pick it in the infield and the outfield. As far as pure outfielders go, Travis Young and Dayton Dugas are two of the primary contributors, although both were hit by major regression in 2017. Dugas hit .206 after a .304 2016 campaign. Part of the problem is his proclivity for striking out, with 107 in 302 career at-bats. Young also experienced a nearly 100 point drop in batting average, while he struck out 19 more times than he did in 2016.